Send My Conscience Home in a Taxi

Externalised Memory

A Rather Ace Thing Happened to me at the Gym
Dancing Kitty
Thursday night I was at the gym for one of my two regular weekly visits. I'm a diligent gym goer, but not a body builder. And I log everything I do on those gym program cards they give you, partly so I can keep track because otherwise I forget where I'm up to or what I've done, and partly because I must be a bit OCD! I log all my weights and reps and so forth.

(For the record my current program is a sort-of pyramid program. I do two sets of a medium weight, then one set of the heaviest weight I can budge. It's also the program I created after taking two months off after getting my appendix out (I really should blog about that) and is heavy on machines rather than free weights.)

I write my own programs these days, without consulting the staff. And I've been stapling my new cards to my old cards so now I have a wad of about six of them, going back probably a couple of years. Partly out of laziness - I really should take them home, or recycle them, I don't really need to know what exercises I was doing this time last year.

The process at my gym is to fill in the card, then leave it in a tray so the staff can sign off that you actually did the work - I think that's the point.

The other night I was one of the last to leave, and the gym guy was putting the programs away and said he'd file mine for me. Then he said "Oooo, you're Paul Johanson."

Turns out I'm slightly famous at the Northcote Aquatic and Recreation Centre.

I'm one of very few people who actually diligently fills in my gym card, and then files them away and keeps them. I'm also one of few people who is there consistently for years at a time - most people join and work out for a few weeks or a few months, then disappear. And I thought about it, and he was right. In the years I've been going to that gym there are maybe two or three people at most whom I've seen consistently. The rest, for whatever reason, come and then go. Maybe they move house, maybe they lose interest. It's always busier at the start of the year, I assume because lots of people make new years resolutions.

For the record, I first joined a gym, the RMIT gym, in early June of 1998. Since some time in 2000, I've been working out twice a week, with a few gaps whilst traveling or because of the aforementioned surgery. I've been a member of the NAARC gym for two stints, from 2000 till 2003 and then again from 2005 till now (wow that's a decade, I should get a prize). I've only belonged to four gyms in 17 years - RMIT, Brunswick, Southport in Port Melbourne and NAARC, although I have worked out in others, notably Gold's Gym in New York. Once I found a form of exercise that suited me, I've stuck at it!

Hooray for dogged persistence.

Weird Dreams Episode Bazillion
Badtz Maru
I've been getting a lot of extra sleep this week, because I had my appendix out on Monday. The general anesthetic takes a few days to get over, but also might be contributing to the weirdness going on in my brain. In fact I was hallucinating slightly when coming out of the anesthetic, things about giant flowers and feather dusters...

This morning's dream started on Venus. Three astronauts were there, trying to mine some rock, only to find that something had taken all the good stuff already and the rocks more more like Styrofoam. Through a series of bizarre events I now can't recall, their spaceship was hijacked and ended up in the middle of in intersection in Melbourne. Literally the middle, it was buried in the middle of the road like a very large man hole. From it emerged... A civil war era cannon with a mind of its own, an angry fridge, Dr Who, Chewbacca and Darth Vadar!

The cannon when on it's merry way, firing down Bourke Street and hitting a tram. A number of people in a cafe nearby cafe were disturbed whilst drinking their lattes. Darth and Chewbacca seemed to have teamed up on the side of good, and started hacking into the angry fridge with light sabres... Happily, that's all I can remember from that dream.

Ah... Just remembered the last thing I was doing last night before I went to sleep - watching outtakes from Blade Runner. That must have warped my brain.

And the other morning I dreamed I was hanging around with Amanda Palmer. She decided that she liked the bunch of fans I was with so much that we should move into her back garden. Unfortunately the only space left in her back garden was in a large pond. So we set up home on a series of Pacific Islander style trimarans in said pond. After a while the water all vanished, and we decided to go our separate ways. But first we had a big garage sale or swap meet, and I picked up a neat monk's robe that was very Goth. I left the place, only to find the whole time we'd been in an obscure part of North Balwyn....

How's everyone else's brain?

I got stuck in an epic Wikihole yesterday
Dancing Kitty
I got stuck in an epic wikihole yesterday. For those not familiar, a wikihole is when you go to look something up and five hours later you find yourself reading an article on something completely random.

As usual, XKCD illustrates it nicely:

Lets see if I can retrace my steps. It started on slashdot which linked to a story about galaxies colliding. That site has a story about other flights like HM370. This lead me to look up Varig airlines on the wikipedia, and this is were I really fell into the hole!

I was actually looking for info about a flight that went missing in 1979, with a cargo of paintings. This then lead to a long long list of aerial disappearances - which seemed to feature a lot of DC-3's going missing in the 1980's. Also made me realise I'd never heard the story that Charles Kingsford Smith when missing on a flight across the pacific.

This of course led me to a list of List of people who disappeared mysteriously. A lot of which were not mysterious, and from the early days of aviation when planes went missing all the time. Or inexperienced pilots who crashed into the ocean, like Frederick Valentich, who likely flew upside down into Bass Strait!

Then I came across a story from Australian politics I'd never heard. In 1926 the federal Labor politician Frederick McDonald vanished mysteriously while on his way to a meeting with Jack Lang. Much later, the chap whose seat he'd almost won in the 1925 election Thomas Ley, was arrested and convicted in the UK for a murder, and was implicated in a number of other deaths and disappearances - including McDonald's! Think of it - one federal politician murdering another! Ley himself died in an insane asylum in the UK.

This of course led me to reading about the long-defunct Nationalist Party of Australia, which it turned out was one of the predecessor parties of the Liberal party. I followed that link, but couldn't bring myself to read about the history of the Liberal party.

That list also led me to read about First Lieutenant Alejandro Bello who is now remembered in the Chilean phrase "Clumsier than Lieutenant Bello". He got lost on a training flight in 1914 and was never heard from again. So he's famous now, for the wrong reasons.

Speaking of military mishaps, then there was the case of the French ships Inkerman and Cerisoles both of which disappeared in a snow storm on Lake Superior in 1918 with all hands. Disappearing on a lake seems like a very weird way to vanish.

Indirectly, which lets face it is the essence of a wikihole, I ended up reading about the Lost Battalion of WWI (there have been more than one lost battalion it seems). They were of course rescued because of the heroic work of a pigeon(!) called Cher Ami who was propelled to fame by her actions, and it preserved, stuffed, in a museum in the US!

Here she is, minus a leg that she lost in the battle.

Said pigeon is apparently displayed next to Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog of WWI....

Then things started to get weird... Also on the list of mysteriously disappearance was a chap called Szilveszter Matuska, a serial killer known for derailing trains. Turns out I'd know about this guy for years, I just didn't realise it. He's the subject of the Lard song Sylvestre Matuschka. I've been listening to that song for at least twenty years, and never thought to wonder who or what it was about... Now I know.

And finally, just before I dragged myself to bed and 11.30PM, I stumbled across a page called List of unidentified murder victims in the United States. I don't recommend reading that just before bed. The page is full of pictures of murder victims who have need been identified, which means no one missed them, and their faces gaze at you out of the page... I was haunted as I tried to sleep by faces of these lost lost people...

The Saga of the Missing Ebook
One of my prize possessions is a Kobo Ebook Reader, which was a gift from Deb on my 41st birthday. I was very anti the ebook for a long time, I love books and have thousands of them, and I like being able to hold that solid lump of paper and read it. I also figured that ebooks would suffer the same fate as all the released video tapes. When DVDs became the norm, a lot of films were re-released on the new format, but to this day some 40% have not. I figured the same thing would happen to some of the more obscure books I wanted to read. The example I used was Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, a book published during the second world war. Then someone sent me a link to the Kindle version of it on Amazon...

My tendency towards reading large dense Science Fiction novels and more recently the 4000-odd pages of Game of Thrones also endears the ebook reader to me. The whole GoT series must weight in at three kilos, but on my ebook reader they weight nothing. I've also got a lot of books my Neal Stephenson. One of his latest offerings, Anathem clocks in at 937 pages!

I also read a lot of (big fat) history books. History doesn't lend itself to brevity. And this is where I discovered a flaw in the joy of ebook reader ownership.

I bought a (big fat) history book on the Kobo site, and read it with great interest. It was the first volume of a two volume work, like I said, history is verbose. So I coughed up some more money for the second volume... Only to find that the digital version of the second volume had the same contents as the first - it was the same file, effectively, with a different file name.

I brought this to the attention of Kobo. They have one of those fun email support things, where you fire off an email to them, they respond with an email saying we have received your email and will respond forthwith. Then another email with a response, asking for more information, to which you reply, which prompts another email saying thank you for getting in touch we'll get back to you shortly, then a response from someone else asking for the same information again, and more than likely contradicting the earlier... And thrown into the mix are other emails asking how helpful the first set of emails were and could you fill in a short survey.

Out of this the gist of what they were saying was "contact the publisher, we just publish what we're given". This I did. The publisher turned out to be a tiny specialist imprint from the US called Potomac Books. Emails to the various email addresses listed on their site yielded no response whatsoever.

So one night I stayed up late and called them at 9AM their time, 11PM Melbourne time. In fact I called a couple of times, once I remembered how to dial internationally. I left detailed messages with email addresses and phone numbers. Again there was no response.

One night after another unanswered call, I decided rather than calling their editorial line, I'd try sales. I finally got onto an actual human, who was perplexed by my inquiry, but did provide the useful information that Potomac has recently been bought by the University of Nebraska Press, who handled all their ebooks. Finally!

In the mean time, I thought I'd try and get a copy from elsewhere. It turns out that JBHiFi, of all retailers, now has an ebook site. So I bought another copy of this book from there... And wouldn't you know it, it had the same contents! At least this meant the problem was definitively with the publisher and not Kobo

So I dropped some emails to the folks at Nebraska Press. This process had been going on for about six months by this stage, although I lost interest for months at a time. Finally I got a reply. Yes, the contents were wrong, yes they'd update it. And yes they did... Then Kobo did nothing with it for at least a few weeks till I prompted them again. And finally I got the book onto my reader. Volume II was finally mine to read! And... it wasn't half as interesting as volume one...

It occurred to me afterwards that part of the reason Potomac books might have ignored me was because I must have been the first and so far only person to actually buy the ebook version of this tome. It was a lot of trouble for them to get my $37 for this one book!

And what after all this, was the book in question? Why it was A History of Carrier Aviation and Its Influence on World Events in two volumes by Norman Polmar of course!

Now if this had been a paper book, I'd have been able to look at it in the book shot as an actual physical object and go "wait a second, this is the wrong book!". When everything is digital, there are no words on a page to read before you buy.

Rewatching Tumbledown
Recently I re-watched the BBC TV movie Tumbledown from 1988.

Tumbledown is an evocatively named craggy mountain in the Falklands, scene of one of the largest and bloodiest, and nearly the last, battle of the brief Falklands War back in 1982.

That little war is almost forgotten. My partner, who was three at the time it happened, knows barely its name. I'm old enough to remember it happening, but to not really understand it at the time. There seemed to be headlines every few days about ships being sunk - The General Belgrano, the SS Atlantic Conveyor.

The "television play" Tumbledown concerns the plight of one Lieutenant Robert Lawrence, who leads his troops through the crucial parts of the battle on that mountain. And just as they're victorious, Lawrence was shot through the head. Miraculously he survives, eventually loosing 43% of his brain and being partly paralysed.

The film is remarkable for its brutally honest depiction of the war and its casualties, and the remarkable story of Lawrence's recovery. And indeed the indifference with which he was treated after the war was over.

I remember being quite struck by the it when it was shown on the ABC back in the late 80's. Several scenes from it have stayed with me, for example almost the last scene where we finally witness the shooting itself.

What's remarkable about re-watching more than twenty years later is how well made and acted the film was, and how there was a whole lot of subtlety to it that I entirely missed when watching it as a teenager. Several scenes I recalled feeling like the lead character was being mocked or bullied were nothing of the sort - he was a tough cookie, not about be pushed around. The scene's with his girlfriend were also had a dimension I didn't catch back in the day.

It's well worth looking up. It's brutal and unvarnished, and remarkably honest. Most docos or movies about war have a heroic or reverential tone to them, whereas war is both dull, brutal and finally very damaging to the people who survive it. Even "little" wars like the Falklands leave the combatants physically and emotionally mangled for life.

Here's the first part:

Robert Lawrence recovered enough to lead a relatively normal life. He lived in Sydney for a few years in the 90's, but is now back in the UK. He's still remarkably candid about his experiences and his opinions of the war and its aftermath.

And here is a strange little historical oddity. This piece was composed by the Scots Guards bagpipe player to commemorate the battle of Tumbeldown while the battle was happening. He jotted it down on the "back of a fag packet" is how he put it. This musician composed music on top of a miserable cold mountain at night during a pitched battle, then performed it at dawn on the mountain!

A Typical Toddler Phone Call
Dancing Kitty
Deb called me up on the way home from work. I'd been having a pretty shit public transport experience, with lots of waiting in the cold. But I was finally on a train.

My mobile rang. I had my headphones in, and always feel like I should hold up the microphone to my mouth so it doesn't look like I was talking to myself.

Me: Hey baby.
Deb: Hey are you still in your...
(Cut to some weird hold music)
Deb: Hey I think the phone battery is flat.
Me: Weird, I keep getting hold music
Deb: No don't push that button Pip!
(Cut to weird hold music again.)
Deb: I don't know what button to...
(Hold music continues)

At this point I hung up and called her back.

Deb: Hey you're on a conference call!
Me: Don't you mean on the speaker phone?
Deb: Yeah, yeah!
(Sound of phone buttons being mashed, followed by the heavy breathing)
Pip: *giggles*
(More hold music)
Deb: Are you there?
Me: Take the phone off Pip!
(Somehow there are now two phones on the call. Pip brings his close to the speaker phone which causes bizarre whistling feedback.)
Deb: Give me the phone Pip. Oh, no, not like that!
(Sound of things being dropped, then a child falling over against a wall.)
Pip: Waaah! Waaaah!
Deb: You're OK pip, you're OK. So, are you far away?
Me: Um, I don't know
Train announcement: Now arriving at Croxton
Me: I'm at Croxton!
Deb: Cool. No, Pip! Not the buttons!
(More hold music)
Deb: Are you there?
Me: Hang up! Hang up! I'll see you soon!
(I hang up.)

Pip likes telephones, but not to talk on. He likes them because of all the buttons!

Today was my birthday!
Badtz Maru

I am now forty two years old. Those of you who are as huge nerds as me will know that this is in fact the ultimate answer to life, the universe and everything!

Oh man, speaking of epic nerds - the chaps at Google clearly are, this is what popped up when I did a google search for the above:

I was half planning a Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy themed birthday party, but between wrangling our eight month old son and working full time, it got to be too much like work. Might still do it later in the year.

I'm not working Friday's at the moment, since Deb went back to work. So I went out to breakfast with my sister, brother-in-law and niece, who remarkably are in the country - this is a rare, maybe twice a year, event. Then we all went off to the zoo! Didn't take many pictures - too much going on with two kids under four. And lets face it, how many pictures of the tigers in the zoo are there out there? My niece is hilarious - she had to ask her mother what her favourite animal was. For the record, my favourite mammal is the wombat. I have other favourite animals from other categories, but just at the moment I can't think what they are...

I'm not sure how much Pip understood of the Zoo. It was his first trip, the first part of which he spent asleep. He did stare intently at wallaby, watched a seal swimming and stared more at some Merecats. BTW I believe the Merecat evolved specificity to entertain small children at the zoo. They're tiny and always busy, and can be seen at low level. The best critter for a kid to look at.

Deb got me the best present, she located a copy of What-a-Mess, a kids book I used to read as a kid.

And now I need to sleep. My thighs are tired from carrying our nine kilo son for three hours!
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This Little Piggy Went To the Tax Accountant
Badtz Maru 2
can I claim a deduction for toys?
"Can I claim a deduction for toys?"

My kid is a little charmer. We were running about doing errands Monday. First stop was Deb's dentist, conveniently located in East St Kilda. And weirdly across the street from an apartment I shared with my then girlfriend back in 2003!

There were two little old ladies also in the waiting room. They were most charmed by Henry. I was telling one of them how his teeth were bothering him. She said "They'll do that for your whole life". The other little old lady said "They grow up so quickly. I still remember when my son was that age. Now he's 57..."

Then we ended up at a tax accountant to do our taxes, oddly enough. It was only afterwards that I realised that said accountant sat at a desk without a computer on it. The last time I saw anyone working at a desk without a PC on it was in about 1995...

Henry amused himself by flailing about on the office floor. As we waited, Deb invented a new version of a popular old kids song as we played with Henry's toes:

"This little piggy went to the tax accountant
This little piggy stayed at home
This little piggy was claimed as a dependant for tax purposes..."

Turns out the accountant had ten(!) grand children, and was quite pleased to meet Henry.
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Accosted By Hungry Rosellas!
Dancing Kitty
Rosella Shoulder
I was down at Wilsons Prom today - we're staying nearby. There was a gap in the rain so we popped over to Tidal River. Almost as soon as we'd parked a flock of nosy Rosellas flew over and landed on the car. Someone's been feeding this lot, as well as the Magpie who had attached himself to the group.

I attempted to have a banana as a snack, whereupon the boldest of the birds leaped onto my arm! First he pecked at the banana peel I had in my hand, then hopped onto my other hand hand started helping himself to my banana! Cheeky bird.

I had Pip on my back in his sling, while then trying to eat come rice crackers. One of the Rosella landed on my head and then tried to eat a cracker right from my hand. Bad birdie! You freaked out my son!

Rosella on car

We poked around the prom a bit, and without really trying saw two wombats, two kangaroos, a wallaby and two emus (or possibly the same emu twice). And two rabbits and a fox as well, unfortunately. I yelled at them to begone, vermin, but they didn't listen.

Australian wildlife is weird. I've never seen an emu in the wild before, they're an awkward looking bird.

We also bumped into three lovely French tourists. Henry being the charmer that he is, instantly befriended them. They said to him "Bonjour Henri!", although I really can't rendered how lovely the French pronunciation of Henry is :-D

Australia: The Land of Literal Place Names
Badtz Maru 2
I'm currently staying at Sandy Point. It is indeed a point, and it is quite sandy. It's next to body of water called Shallow Inlet which is, as you've probably guessed, a shallow inlet.

View Larger Map

The nearest town to here is called Fish Creek, which is on a creek which, presumably, has a whole lot of fish in it. About an hours drive east of here is a place called Ninety Mile Beach which is, who knew, a beach 90 miles long.

Ah Australia, the place that brought you the Great Sandy Desert, the Great Australian Bite, Big Lake, Small Lake and indeed Cockatoo.
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